By Doug Ryan
Five-year-old gelding Ever So Natural, third in last year’s $400,000 Final of the Country Championships, heads a strong field of nominations for this Sunday’s $150,000 qualifier at Bushland Drive Racecourse, Taree.
The gelding is top-rated among 19 nominations providing the cream of local gallopers. Taree trainer Cliff Bashford has spent the last year timing his galloper to be ready for this year’s big event and reckons he has the gelding “ready”.
Ever So Natural signalled he was spot on for The Championships with a solid win first-up over 1208m at Port Macquarie on February 11 after two barrier trials. There is little doubt that the 1400m of the qualifier this Sunday and the $400,000 Final over the same distance at Royal Randwick on April 1 are tailor made so long as the gelding gets fair running from back in the field.
But winning or running second in the qualifier won’t be easy with so many talented horses from the Mid North Coast Association being nominated.
Left: Ever So Natural under the guidance of Sam Clenton. Image by - Bradley Photographers
Interestingly, Taree trainer Bob Milligan won last year’s qualifier at Taree with Another Valley, which went on to run fourth in the Final and this year he has nominated four-year-old mare Capital Magic and three-year-old filly Valbeata.
Capital Magic surprised with a good second to Ever So Natural at Port on February 11 whereas Valbeata has won two of its past four starts. Could Bashford and Milligan’s charges fight out this year’s Final again?
Taree trainer Wayne Wilkes has also had a year long plan for his four-year-old mare Shotgun Roulette to grab the big prizemoney. He decided about this time last year that the then filly wasn’t worthy of going in the $1 million Australian Oaks as she hadn’t matured enough and set his sights on the Country Championships.
She was impressive in her “trial” from a spell in dashing to a solid win in the prestigious $70,000 Queen Of The North for fillies and mares over 1200m at Port on February 17 and that was enough to satisfy his aspirations.
Then there is three-year-old colt Cogliere, trained at Port by Marc Quinn, which has been mixing it with city promising types, such as Foxplay, and won a recent Highway race in Sydney. The galloper was subsequently midfield behind Ever So Natural but was coming back in distance and will be more suited by the 1400m.
Port Macquarie trainer Jenny Graham has nominated three gallopers, two of them, five-year-old mare She’s Invincible and four-year-old gelding Portatorio, also having their final hit-outs when around Cogliere at Port in Ever So Natural’s race.
She’s Invincible won its previous race when first-up from a spell and Portatorio was rated something special early in its career before injury. Her other hope is five-year-old gelding Gold Torque which has notched eight placings from its past nine starts.
Fellow trainer John Sprague has nominated four-year-old mare Bold Beginning, a winner three starts back before a couple of handy runs in Highway races, and four-year-old mare Jemily, a winner two starts back.
Leading Port trainer Neil Godbolt is resting his hopes on Artova, which won four races as a two-year-old, and four-year-old gelding Hippy High Ho, winner of two races last campaign. Other recent winners nominated are Dubai Sights, trained at Taree by Matthew Robinson and four-year-old mare Port Gold from the stable of Robert Lane and trained on the track. Others nominated include Cheljoe, Fox Creek, King Russell, They Call Me Rose, and Toast.